“Where is he now?” my younger daughter asks us, the morning after the night he died.
We are prepared for this question, have spent the weeks of his illness looking for the right children’s book (one that doesn’t mention God, religion, heaven, or whatever purgatory the Rainbow Bridge describes). We couldn’t find one. My husband and I are writers, so we invented our perfect place for our beloved 11 year old hound, whom our young daughters often called their “furry brother.”
“He is on a planet just for dogs, called Dog Planet,” my husband and I both say, a little bit proud of ourselves.
“That’s not in the solar system,” our older daughter says. Space camp just paid for itself.
“It’s a very tiny planet,” my husband says. “And he will always live on in our hearts.”
“Sure,” our oldest says, dubious. “But I wish he could also still live on in our house.” We nod. We wish that too.
My husband isn’t done selling Dog Planet as an idea: “He feels better now, where he is. It has all of his favorite things—” “But then—” our youngest says like a lawyer poking holes in our case, “why didn’t he take this with him?” She holds up his favorite toy, a squeaky owl. “Did he pack a suitcase?” We are not prepared for these questions.
Later that day, I see our youngest in the backyard throwing his favorite toys high into the air, trying with all of her strength to throw higher each time. When each falls to the grass, she groans in disappointment. “What are you doing?” I ask, even though I’m sure I already know. “Trying to get these toys to Bowie,” she says.
I go to the bathroom and cry. When I come back, I tell her that he has everything he wants and needs on dog planet. “Even his owl toy?” she asks. “Even his owl toy. If you want, we can keep these toys to remember him, or we could give them to dogs who don’t have any toys.”
And so begins the way my daughters and I cope with this loss: we spend several days going through his belongings. Once my daughters are back in school, I make it my job to drive all over the city to deliver his leftover food, treats, crate, bed, toys, and blankets to all of the organizations I think will need it most.
I report back to my daughters: “I donated his things today. I know it’s going to make so many dogs happy and less hungry.” We keep a few things for ourselves, though. My youngest sleeps with his owl toy in her bed. And I keep his collar in the bottom of my purse, as if I might run into him on the street someday and need to reclaim him.